Ye! Success Stories

Oct 17, 2018

Andrew Mukose is a social entrepreneur from Uganda. He is the founder and CEO of Gifted Hands Network. Andrew also holds a bachelor's degree in Medical and Community Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo University in Uganda. He is a World Bank Fellow, Obama Foundation Leader 2018, Winner of the Young Achievers Award 2018 in Social Entrepreneurship, an African Nonprofit Leadership Academy Fellow, AfricaCAN Ambassador, second place winner at the Global Competition of the Ideas for Action 2017 organized by World Bank Group and Wharton Business School and last but certainly not least, the winner of the Uganda Start Up Cup 2017.

WOW. Can you say...accomplished!

His Organization Gifted Hands Network, recruits and trains visually impaired women to become certified medical tactile examiners, in order to carryout the early detection of breast cancer. The training transforms their disability into an ability. The superior sense of touch of a blind woman can detect breast cancer lumps extremely effectively. This work provides blind women with an opportunity to earn a sustainable income, while saving the lives of women through carrying out early breast cancer detection.

By working with blind women and women at risk of breast cancer, Andrew’s social enterprise has double impact – reduce the number of preventable deaths from breast cancer in Uganda and provide meaningful employment to blind women who are often mislabeled by local communities.

The Ye! Team sat down with Andrew in late August to learn more about his incredible journey, how he came up with such an innovative idea, and what his life is like as the founder of a social enterprise.

Read more below!

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Ye! Team: Thank you for taking the time to chat today Andrew. We know you are a busy man! Let’s start off from the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about the problem you are working on and how did you come up with your idea or concept for a business to solve this problem?

Andrew Mukose: Thank you. My name is Andrew Mukose and I am the founder of a social enterprise from Uganda.

I grew up in a single-family home with my mother in charge. She worked as a lecturer in a university in Uganda. One day, when I was much younger, she was on her way home from work when she got into a car accident. This accident caused her to lose her sight. Following this accident, her contract at the university was terminated. Because of her acident, they felt she could no longer execute her duties properly.

This led to difficulties for my family. Following my mother going blind, my sister was submitted to the hospital. She lost her life because my family could not afford to pay for her medical bills. These two incidents motivated me to create Gifted Hands Network. I wanted to support not just my mother, but all blind women who struggle because of their lack of sight

In Uganda, there are more than 1.6 million people who are blind, 99.5 percent of whom are unemployed even though some are university graduates and many have undergone rehabilitation. These sight-impaired individuals are qualified, but society looks at them as nonproductive.

In addition, Uganda has more than 50,000 women with breast cancer. More than 4,500 die each year because few health centers are available. For example, only two mammography units are located in the urban center of Kampala. As a result, women go to hospitals for detection and find they are already in an advanced stage of breast cancer. Many of these women are referred overseas for treatment, but 99 percent of them cannot afford the treatment or the transportation costs. Even if more mammography units were available, some women are not comfortable with using machines for breast cancer detection because they fear exposing their bodies to harmful radiation and X-rays.

From the two problems, I came up with the idea for the Gifted Hands Network (GHN).

At Gifted Hands Network, we recruit blind women and medically train them to perform breast cancer examinations using palpation. We educate them on their ability to use their hands to detect cancerous lumps. They can in fact, do this better than a person with sight. We transform what many see as a disability into an opportunity.

We also educate women across the country about breast cancer. We undertake community outreach programs, such as the ‘Breast Cancer Free Uganda Campaign’ which we launched in January 2017 to educate women on the causes, effects, risks and preventative measures they can take to detect breast cancer early. Through this campaign we can erase negative attitudes towards prevention, testing and diagnosis. We are changing the belief that manyrural women hold, that once you have breast cancer your life is over.

YT: Growing up, you were in close proximity to someone who was blind, and you understood a lot about their heightened sense of touch and what that meant for their ability to feel. Was the connection to breast cancer something that came quite naturally or was this something that you put in time and effort to research? What kind of research did you do to conclude that blind people could be excellent at detecting breast cancer? 

Andrew Mukose: Of course, I was living close to someone who was blind, so that’s where the obvious connection was. It wasn’t research but more firsthand information. I also have a medical degree and therefore studied in school about prevention but not about application in real life – my understanding at the time was still theoretical. I did research on top of my schooling about how to implement a program on the ground.

At this point, I joined Social Innovation Academy (SINA). At SINA, they nurture ideas of entrepreneurs to help them build social enterprises. While I was there, I gathered more information and they provided support and a better understanding of how to build a social enterprise.

It was at SINA that I got in touch with a medical doctor in Germany and brainstormed about how to implement in Africa what had been done in Germany. I saw that programs using blind people for palpation and early detection were effective in other countries and I studied their stories. During this time, I came to learn that blind women can detect breast cancer using their hands, often better than someone with their eyesight intact. I also came to the conclusion that working with local blind women would encourage women to go in for breast cancer testing. I saw from personal experience that they would be more likely to trust another woman than a machine.

YT: I think it’s really important that you talk about receiving support. How important was it for you to have a mentor along the way? How did having a mentor support you in transforming your idea into a reality?

AM: Whenever I speak, I can’t forget my mentor. Without my mentor I wouldn’t be where I am today.

My main mentor is the founder of Social Innovation Academy – Etienne Salborn. He really pushed me to look outside my comfort zone and to think outside the box. Now I have many other mentors – international and national, who support me and add value to what I am doing. Right now they assist me with scaling up my programs and impact.

As the founder of a social enterprise, we look to create impact and we need to access funds to scale this impact and continue to support blind people. It costs 10 dollars per client for the breast cancer examination. We get these funds from insurance companies and medical companies who support medical causes and social enterprises.

In rural areas, even 10 dollars is too much for many women to pay. By supporting GHN, donors enhance the ability of rural women to access treatment free of charge and contribute to a reduction of preventable deaths across the country. This funding also allows us to sustain blind people and provide meaningful employment.

YT: What you are saying about impact is quite important. Let’s talk about your role as the founder and your impact within the company. Perhaps you can share some insights for aspiring young entrepreneurs? Inside your organization, what is your role? What type of activities are you involved with in the day-to-day operations as the founder?

AM: In Africa, a lot of youth fear failure. This is an issue that leads to high number of unemployed youth. Therefore, one of the most important parts of my job is to motivate and encourage other youth. I encourage them to believe in themselves. Everything is possible with focus. For GHN, I act as representative during events and awards and I travel, raising awareness about the prevention of breast cancer through early detection and the capacities of blind women.

I enter competitions every day. I am always applying for awards. Every day I fundraise. I write proposals to donors who wish to support blind women and reduce breast cancer. I pitch for the organization at various competitions and generally represent the organization in public.

Internally, I manage the organization without a hierarchy. Everyone has a role based on their skills. I use a strategy called - Holocracy – everyone has their role and there is no hierarchy. There is no leader and tasks are divided depending on each team member’s expertise.

Within this structure, I oversee the flow of activities and ensure that all tasks are being completed on a weekly and monthly basis. I work on the ground with the team on the campaigns, where again, I motivate youth across the country. One of the key points I work to get across is “we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. Ourselves.” What does this mean? It means, you don’t need anyone else. You just need to believe in yourself to achieve your goals.

YT: Wow, you are performing a large variety of tasks as the founder. For aspiring entrepreneurs, they maybe don’t see all the hard work that goes into making a business successful. In making your organization a success, can talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way, as an individual entrepreneur, and within your enterprise?

AM: Many of the challenges I faced early on came from how to distribute tasks and how to manage the team. That’s why I now use holocracy. I am also a perfectionist. This is something I am constantly working to overcome.

Finances are always a challenge. We want to scale. We are trying to grow to all of Africa. But, for this we need to fundraise. A lot. How do we scale one country at a time across Africa? We need funding. The struggle is always, how do you make money from a social enterprise? This is where communities like Ye! can assist. Maybe someone reads this interview and becomes inspired to support Gifted Hands Network! This is why networking and spreading awareness is so important.

Another struggle we face at GHN is getting people to try new innovations. This can be difficult in Africa. Tradition often stands in the way of trust. Through our campaigns, we are working to remedy this. We have to show women that getting examined is cheap! Our solution is cost effective, even for rural women.

Despite these challenges, I am motivated because of the challenges of my mother. I don’t want other women to go through the same struggles.

YT: What’s the next big target you’ve set for GHN?

AM: Our target every month is to have an impact on over 5000 women across Uganda through the campaigns done on the ground. Not online, but woman to woman. Through our outreach we want to impact them and turn this into a conversion – why you should get an early breast cancer examination.

Our second target is to train more blind women and recruit more blind people into the network.

As for scale, within 5 years, I want GHN to be in 3 more countries in Africa. To determine which countries to go into, we look at statistics, the number of blind, the percentage of women with breast cancer, and we conduct the necessary research to understand where our services are most needed and in which countries we can best scale our impact.

YT: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur in Africa?

The first thing is in Africa, you have to think about many things in a unique way. You must have passion. Some people have skills, but they do not have the motivation to become entrepreneurs. I think an entrepreneur must have certain qualities. For me these are, a strong vision, motivation, passion and determination.

As for skills, an entrepreneur must have strong interpersonal skills, communicate well and be able to implement and execute on their strategy and vision.

YT: How important is it for young entrepreneurs like yourself to be a part of a community such as Ye!?

Communities like Ye! motivate you. They support your vision and your determination. They also provide a platform for young entrepreneurs to inspire one another and to continue growing. Communities offer a space to grow your rapport and to understand how to overcome certain challenges in entrepreneurship. Through communities you can share, grow and expand.

Communities like Ye!, also allow us to build partnerships, connect with resources, access clients and customers and learn about events. Basically, it helps entrepreneurs to expand their knowledge base. By increasing your knowledge base, you can then begin to think outside the box.

Of course, being part of a community where you can connect with a big network makes it easier to get funding. Through the network you can learn about opportunities to get funding for a specific project. The network is really powerful in entrepreneurship.

YT: What we’ve heard from others in the community is that, while support from a community of peers is important, government support, in the form of policies or programs that enable young entrepreneurs to access loans or entrepreneurship programs, is also crucial. From your own experience, what do you think the government can do to provide an ecosystem that allows young entrepreneurs to flourish?

I think the government can offer support to incubation hubs. This is where youth are nurtured and mentored. At these hubs, they can grow their entrepreneurship skillset and by learning these skills they are building their capacities and increasing their chances of creating or finding employment. If they are employed, then they are contributing to society.

Incubation hubs make knowledge easier to access. They provide a place for youth to access the knowledge they need to really grow their businesses. I think it’s important that the government support already existing programs.

Currently, I am working with the Ministry of Health which supports our campaign on the ground to reach a greater number of people. They are supporting my enterprise because of the cause and the social impact. By showing their support for campaigns led by youth, I believe this motivates other young people to start something.

Another problem is that right now entrepreneurship is not seen as an option by many young people. All through school you are never taught to create something. Maybe there needs to be some ‘unlearning.’ Youth need to be taught that they can set up something which can be successful. They need to learn that university, and what you are taught in school, is not the only option. Because often, youth get a degree, but they don’t find employment. I think that the government should look to implement a policy or change the system, to erase the current way of thinking that, just because you go to university, you will find employment.

I think there should be a policy that encourages youth to start something on their own, not just to look for a job, but to create one. These policies should be flexible, they should allow youth to see how they can set up something and leave room to fail. From this, they can see the various types of careers that are available to them. I would like to see some changes like this.

YT: Andrew, thanks again for taking the time to chat with us today. Your vision and determination are trully inspirational. Keep up the great work! 

To learn more about Andrew Mukose or to get in touch with him directly, visit his Ye! Profile. You can also follow him on Twitter to stay updated about all his activities.

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From the Gifted Hands Network Breast Cancer Free Uganda Campaign on the 15th of September 2018.

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